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The Big Trees

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Writing about visual art, or ekphrastic writing, offers a multitude of possibilities.

When you look at a picture, what do you see? How does it make you feel; what does it remind you of?

What’s the story in / behind it?

Using Cezanne’s landscape painting The Big Trees in the National Galleries of Scotland, we took a number of approaches to drafting and editing. (Click on the link to see picture we wrote about - I took these photos on a recent walk at dawn, but they reminded me of the Cezanne painting!)

1. Starting with a 'free write' about what you see / notice often provides a good way in:

Central stunted tree amidst the forest.

Light fights its way down.

Jumble of limbs

jungle of colours

Autumn on the ground with dense green ceiling.

A place to stop.



Sturdy warped trunks vie for groth

high above the rustling undergrowth

dappled softness wild caressed


Who wanders these trails simply to enjoy a stroll through the countryside somewhere in France? I looked at the view and thought this worth exploring. It was autumn - the leaves had mostly fallen. It was a day for having a cough . . . wandering until I got completely lost.


2. If you take each of the 'question' words in turn, you can quickly generate a list poem, with the option of then going on to edit or re-arrange the lines for maximum impact, by paying particular attention to sound and rhythm patters - or providing answers to the question, to give a call-and-response poem.

Why is there no wildlife?

When in the day is it light?

Where beyond the twinned trees do the skies open?

Who wanders these trails simply to enjoy?

How are the trees so green and the undergrowths so brown?

What creature stirs beneath the fern?


3. The picture can become the setting for a story if you imagine it as a still or snapshot, and write about what happened immediately (or a long time - pick your timescale!) before and after the moment the image depicts:

Alex developed a slightly surreal scenario, in which the picture is literally a film set -


A man on a parachute floated through the air, landing on the small area of grass not too far from the trees. He gathered his stuff together and tried to figure out if he had been seen or not. Which movie was he in now? . . . D-Day landings perhaps?


Aircraft were flying up in the sky . . . man wanders about in a trance . . . vision gets blurred .. . sketchy ideas: back to the drawing board . . . need to ditch that script because it wasn't part of the original plot. What's next?

Matt imaged a narrative of creation and destruction -


Blistering wind whips branches and sheds leaves

Creaking crackling clacking cacophony.

Roots see their first light of day.

Hail falls thudding heavily.

No sway - instead a thrashing.

Forks of light split the cold sky.

The heavens roll in the valley

side to side filling the pit in my stomach.

I cannot stand.


Not a wisp remains

no hint of smell or taste.

Beauty begone.

swaying boughs creak no more.

I see the black

smothering, crashing down.

A straight line into the distance.

White marks replace snowdrops

daffodils by yellow paint.

Not even a memory remains.

The dream is dead.

We swapped favourite lines and ideas from each other's responses to prompt a final piece:

Flying through trees

floating in the breeze

wandering through

an avenue of leaves

making a film

Next movie please!

Winging my way

through this script

Quite confused

by most of it.

What's next?,pray tell

I write some more

and turn the page.

Need some Dutch courage.

Run out of it . . .

Trees like large arms and large fingers

gouging their way

through the sky.

Images of autumn

A pathway for walking

through to the white light.


He did it in the name of art

carving, twisting, cutting down.

destruction a by-product, creation at the core,

finally the moon shines down.

The deadly calm abated.

Fresh wind blows the stench away.

Wildlife hld still for one more beat.

Suddenly a dashing, flying, crunching abounds.

Silver dappled space opens like a petal.


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